How to Test Your Own Water if You Live Near Gas Drilling

Sage advice for those living close to where gas drilling takes place has been to test your water. Be sure to test it before drilling begins, and then again once drilling is underway. Only if a homeowner tests prior to drilling can there be an airtight case if water should become contaminated. MDN points out that among the many thousands of gas wells drilled, there have been no known documented cases of well water chemical contamination from hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale. (Note: If you know of any, please send the information to us so we can make it known. Further Note: The well water contamination in Dimock, PA was due to methane/natural gas leaking into water supplies and not from fracking fluid chemical contamination.)

There does seem to be confusion as to just what to test for to prove that drilling fluids are contaminating a water supply. Chances are, there are already trace amounts  of “contaminants” in your water right now. It’s important to know what is naturally occurring, or happening because of water runoff from roadways, as opposed to contaminants caused by drilling activity. Even the weather sometimes plays a role in water quality.

Because drilling wastewater causes a high level of “total dissolved solids” – meaning there’s a lot of particles in the fluid making it salty, we get this advice for self-testing your water from the recent Geological Society meeting in Pittsburgh:

Wheeling Jesuit University professor Ben Stout and a team of students said residents should be proactive in protecting themselves by taking three steps:

  • Test water daily with a conductivity pen, which measures the ability of dissolved materials in the water to conduct electricity.
  • Identify those materials, which can be done with a kit certified by the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Keep a detailed notebook, recording the daily results and observations about color, taste and odor.*

Seems like a lot of work, but a good option for do-it-yourselfers. Home owners concerned about water quality may instead want to enlist the help of a water testing company to do it for them. MDN has heard of drilling companies with operations up to a half mile away that are willing to fund water tests. The key point is to make sure you test before drilling begins so you have documented evidence of the water’s quality both before and after drilling.

*Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Mar 21, 2011) – Residents urged to keep an eye on tap water quality